I spent the first part of the cross-town ride enjoying the legs of the pretty girl in the denim skirt down at the far end of the car. I’m a leg man and they were a fabulous pair, nicely toned and tanned. A guy could rest his hand on one those legs and feel everything was right with the world.

She was completely engrossed in a book and didn’t notice me at all. I figured her for a student, twenty-two or twenty-three, tops, which meant if I was going to strike up a conversation with her, I had to do so before we rolled into the SDSU station and she disembarked.

The truth is, though, that while my body might have been into making a move, my heart and mind weren’t. I was freshly single after a relationship that had chewed up and spat out most of my twenties, and still in that phase of rebound where I fall madly in love for ten minutes with any attractive female who crosses my path. This is an emotional bear trap, one I’ve gotten snared in before, and I knew by now to avoid it.

Still, I probably should have gone to talk to her. Having been out of the singles game for so long my flirtation skills had likely atrophied sharply, and a little practice wouldn’t have hurt. But it was enough to see that something like that existed in the world, and to be able to enjoy it from a distance.

A rush hour crowd waited at the next stop, the glut of bodies filling the car obscuring my view of the girl and her nice legs. With a bit of reluctance I turned back to my own book.

After a few minutes I began to notice the woman who’d taken the seat opposite the aisle from me. There was nothing particularly remarkable about her, just your average American housewife type, but somehow she reminded me of a terrified woodland animal desperately trying to avoid being noticed. Where other passengers flipped the pages in their books or poked at their electronic gizmos she sat as still as possible, her gaze lowered to the floor. When she raised her face enough to give me a good look at it, I saw why.

Her face was a quilt of multi-colored bruises, the worst of them concentrated around the left side. The white of her right eye was stained red in places where the blood vessels had ruptured, and her lips were too unevenly swollen to close completely; through the space between them I glimpsed the surgical wiring holding her jaw together.

I’ve been a student of violence long enough to recognize the effects when I see them, and what I could see was that someone had given her one horrific beating, and very recently. Someone—a husband, maybe, or a boyfriend—who’d felt enough hate towards her to take away her ability to speak.

Her eyes flicked up for a second and met mine, a thin meniscus of tears coating them. I wish I knew what she saw—or thought she saw–in my face in the few seconds before she looked away again. Did she feel self-conscious or ashamed, knowing I’d recognized her injuries for what they were?

I tried to allow her what measure of privacy I could, but it was difficult not to look. I couldn’t escape the fact that everyone else in our immediate vicinity seemed to be concentrating as hard on not noticing her as she was on not being seen.  A minor injustice compared to what she had been through, but nevertheless one she shouldn’t have to bear.

I wanted to reach across the aisle, squeeze her hand, and say something nice, to offer some response other than the surrounding apathy, but the words died stillborn on my tongue. Finally I just offered her the handkerchief I keep for cleaning my glasses, feeling like a half-assed caricature of chivalry as I did so. She glanced at it as though I were trying to hand her a live rattlesnake, and shuffled sideways in her seat, away from me.

“It’s clean,” I said. For a moment it looked as though she might take it, but then the train rumbled in to the SDSU stop and she was out the doors before they’d even finished opening. Gone like she’d never even been there.

The train rolled on towards the last few stops before the end of the line, and as it did I felt unsettled by what I’d seen and done. She hadn’t asked for me to draw public attention to whatever private pain she endured; I’d created a narrative around a stranger’s life and written myself in as a character, and in doing so failed to help at all. I might’ve even made it worse.

I tried to read a few pages in my book but quit when I realized I had no idea what they said. I looked towards the far end of the car, hoping the girl with the nice legs might still be there. I wanted the sight of some pretty young skin to distract me from my own sense of futility. To my surprise, she still was.

There was a boy with her now, a skinny kid with a sandy blonde buzz cut who must’ve gotten on at the university stop. They held each other with absolute joy, like those couples you see at airports who’ve been apart for months, even though it’d probably only been hours since they’d walked the campus hand-in-hand. They shared kisses and whispered to each other, unconcerned with any eyes that might be watching.

By herself, she’d been pretty; together they were radiant. It was a celebration to see them. And really, what else could one do but admire them from afar, and hope the tiny sphere of their love kept the bad things of the world at bay, if just for a little while?

Some people choose to write postcards primarily to their friends or family or significant others. Not me. I did the cursory correspondences to loved ones, but really, the person I was most keen to write to on my recent trip across the country was my general practitioner.

She’s looked after my health for my entire life.

When I was thrown into unfamiliar territory, it dawned on me that she probably knows me better than anyone else. She certainly, at any rate, knows more about my body than anyone else. The only other person that approximates that level of intimacy is my shrink, but, really, she just knows more than anyone else about what I think of myself.

Why not hang out that intimacy to air, I thought. And what better a place than here, with its meandering, awkward intimacies.

I admire insects; theyre always at it.

Dear Maura,

Here I am in L.A. There are oil rigs and palm trees and finally some relief from the rain.

I don’t think it’s probably worth the effort to adjust my sleeping patterns to Pacific Time, do you? I’ll just get up obscenely early and read my book. And remind myself every couple minutes not to eat this grapefruit.

I shouldn’t eat the grapefruit, should I?

Okay. I need to concentrate. More soon.

Meghan

 

Nothing like a road trip to accustom you to views of the road, the sky, and sundry parts of your body reflected in glass.

Dear Maura,

We’re off!

It takes some adjusting to, this total lack of overwhelming, verdant overgrowth to which one becomes accustomed in Connecticut. A friend of mine from the Pacific Northwest once said that it felt as if the Connecticut forests would consume you if you stayed still too long.

I, of course, pointed out that Rip Van Winkel was just fine. Sure, he was in the Catskills and not the Berkshires. And, sure, he spent the end of his days running around like a crazy man on the edge of civilization. But he was fine, right? Never consumed wholly by the woods.

So, the lack of green things has been a good reminder to stay well hydrated. I don’t think I’ve ever drank so much water in my life. You’d be so proud!

Meghan

 

The Brooklyn Bridge, now with Zumanity billboard!

Dear Maura,

It seems to me that when doing travel of this scope (being in the changing landscape for 3,000 miles and days on end), you get stuck in cycles, making comparisons to home.

This behavior was perhaps at its most silly today in Las Vegas.

Look! Here’s an obvious simulation of the Brooklyn Bridge. On a sidewalk.

Well – you’ll be happy to know that we showed Sin City a little of the Land of Steady Habits. We drank our water, we had six-inch Subway sandwiches, and we applied our 70 spf sunscreen. And then we hit the road (at the speed limit, of course).

Take that, LV!

Hope this finds you well,

Meghan

 

Possibly the best store security camera system ever.

Dear Maura,

We’ve been trying to eat healthfully on the road. It’s not always easy, particularly in the middle of Utah, as it turns out. But we’ve found that Subway has done a good job franchising out into the most remote nooks of the country. And they have more vegetables than any of our other options.

We came across this place, where the employees were keen to talk about what a hazard deer are to truckers. I felt a complicated mix of feelings here. First of all, you know how aesthetically stimulating I find taxidermy to be. (Remember that time I tried to get you to speculate about it during my yearly? – always orchestrating situations that I imagine will make good poems…) Then, there was the nervousness I suddenly felt about potentially hitting a deer in Michelle’s car. And also, I felt slightly queasy – I blame all the clashing fonts and fluorescent lights.

It can’t be good to eat under that much agitation, can it?

Digesting,

Meghan

 

Time stretches out in the shade of an arch.

Dear Maura,

Utah is gorgeous. We made good time yesterday and so we stopped today in Arches National Park. It was unrelentingly hot – the kind of hot that makes you lose track of your sense of time.

Lying with my back against the red rock in the shadow of one of the Window Arches, I started thinking about boredom. In German it’s langeweile – long time. I think it has kinder connotations than boredom. I can’t be sure about this, as I don’t speak German and no one knows the etymology of the English word, but it seems to me that the German has a way of accepting those instances when time slips into subjective experience.

As I was walking back to the car, I heard a couple from Florida (RV drivers) say, “It just makes you feel so small.” It could be that just as too much poetry can be dangerous (or at least Austen novels would have us believe), indulging too much in thoughts of scale can be too.

And so we’re off,

Meghan

 

I get itchy just looking at it.

Dear Maura,

We stopped off at the Sod House Museum somewhere in the Nebraska.

I’m concerned about chiggers.

That’s all,

Meghan

 

I want more information about Wedding Breakfast mustard.

Dear Maura,

I’m writing to you from the World Famous Mustard Museum in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin.

I’ve been thinking a lot of stories Aaron would tell me of his childhood in Kansas as we’ve traveled through the middle of the country. Here, I’m thinking of the mustard rubs he said his nurse grandmother would give him. Now, I can see the potential use of a mustard poultice being similar to Vicks VapoRub or something, but a mustard rub? Into the skin?

Surely that would hurt.

I wonder about the use of pain. Would the mustard burns distract you from your chest cold?

My chest is blushing just thinking about it.

Best,

Meghan

 

What you get for attempting symmetry.

Dear Maura,

I’m writing to you this morning from a hotel in Youngstown, Ohio, on what is, I hope, the last day of our cross country journey.

Could you please explain to me the phenomenon that occurs when the bedbugs you imagine you feel crawling on you outweighs your desire for sleep?

I promise I haven’t been using crack.

It’s just hotels – I can’t believe they’re clean and so my mind runs away with me and suddenly I’m covered in unstoppable bugs, my eyes saucer-wide and staring at the ceiling.

It will be good to be back. If, in fact, there were bedbugs, I will be seeing you soon.

All my best,

Meghan